Bulgarian restaurant and club employees protest COVID restrictions

SOFIA, September 8 (Reuters) – Around 2,000 Bulgarian restaurant and club owners, waiters, bartenders and gym instructors demonstrated in the center of the capital Sofia on Wednesday against new restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

Protesters, holding signs reading “We want to work” and “Free business” marched from outside Parliament to the Ministry of Health, denouncing restrictions they believe are poorly targeted and discriminatory.

In a bid to curb the latest wave of COVID-19 infections, Bulgaria – the least vaccinated country in the European Union – has ordered restaurants and cafes to close at 11 p.m. on Tuesday – a measure that effectively closes nightclubs.

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The interim government also ordered gymnasiums and children’s activity centers to operate at 30% capacity.

“The virus does not (only) come out until 11 pm. We have seen in the last two years that closing only restaurants and clubs does not work,” said Richard Alibegov, head of the Bulgarian Restaurant Association.

Taxi and bus drivers expressed their solidarity with the protesters by parking in a line between parliament and the protesting crowd.

Protesters observed a minute’s silence over the “death of small businesses” and accused the government of failing to find adequate and timely compensation.

The government has asked the outgoing parliament to amend the 2021 budget to allow funding of 420 million levs ($ 253.76 million) to support businesses hard hit by measures to curb the pandemic. Alibegov said the expense would be far from sufficient.

Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov said he pleaded with affected businesses to wait two to three weeks to help contain the new wave of contagion.

Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7 million people, has reported around 2,000 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to some 464,700 since the start of the pandemic, including 19,270 deaths.

Protesters vowed to ignore the restrictions and said they, along with transport workers, would block major roads later this month if measures were not relaxed or proper compensation was not given. not provided immediately.

($ 1 = 1.6551 leva)

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Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova Editing by Mark Heinrich

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